Parting is painful for players, who salute fans They vow to leave faithful with title to remember

Stallions notebook

November 13, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht and Kevin Eck | Gary Lambrecht and Kevin Eck,SUN STAFF

Right after the Stallions clinched the Southern Division title and their second straight trip to the Grey Cup, team owner Jim Speros and coach Don Matthews thanked the Memorial Stadium crowd for its support.

Cornerback Irv Smith wishes he would have had a chance to address the fans. Smith talked about the distractions the Stallions have battled lately, namely the probable move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, which likely would end the CFL's two-year stay here.

"I wish I could have said goodbye to them myself. I love it here," said Smith, a Maryland native who played his collegiate ball at College Park. "It's just not fair. We're 17-3 and we're out of town? The NFL is just flexing their muscle. It's the big bank taking over the little bank. That's how it is."

Smith's feelings were echoed around the Baltimore locker room.

"We had a great time while we were here," nose tackle Jearld Baylis said. "We think there are some people that are hooked on the CFL and will continue to follow the CFL. It would be a shame if we decide to leave this city, but we don't have any control over that. But if we're going to leave this city, we're going to do it as the champions."

"We won't be distracted about what goes on outside of football, because we can only control football," quarterback Tracy Ham said. "But this group of fans here has been great. If we are taken away from them, I will really feel very bad for them. The fans always lose whenever there's adversity about a team leaving. . . .

"Our fans let us know when we're not playing well and that they're behind us, and that's what you call fans."

"The fan support that we've received has been tremendous," linebacker O. J. Brigance said. "Whether it's been 21,000 or 31,000, the people loved us and came out to support us. These are probably some of the greatest football fans I've ever seen."

Brigance turned in his usual solid show yesterday with five tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery early in the second quarter that swung the momentum Baltimore's way.

San Antonio quarterback Dave Archer was lined up in a shotgun formation, but failed to handle center Mike Kiselak's low snap. After a lengthy scramble for the ball, Brigance came up with the fumble at the San Antonio 22.

The resulting field goal increased the Stallions' lead to 9-1.

"That was a big play, because it gave our offense a chance to get three points," Brigance said. "And as we saw, those threes really started adding up."

Culver provides early lift

Wide receiver Shannon Culver wore an ear-to-ear grin after the game, and not just because he got to spray teammates with bubbly. Culver caught three passes for 47 yards.

It has been an interesting year for Culver, particularly in the late going. After starting 15 of Baltimore's first 16 games -- he missed one with a neck injury -- Culver was relegated to a backup spot for a game last month, before getting demoted to the practice roster for the regular-season finale.

Culver returned to start last week's playoff opener. Yesterday, he made his presence known immediately. On Baltimore's opening drive, he caught a 35-yard pass from Ham to get the Stallions into San Antonio territory, withstanding a vicious hit from defensive back Jason Wallace. Culver came back on the next play to make a 6-yard reception. Five plays later, the Stallions took a 3-0 lead on Carlos Huerta's first field goal.

"It was real big to make some things happen early," Culver said. "It was personally a big lift for me and my confidence, to show the coaches I could do it."

Carter puts on closing rush

Defensive end Grant Carter has been one of the Stallions'

steadiest players all year, but he has raised his game in the postseason.

Yesterday, Carter was outstanding, knocking down three passes, with four tackles and one sack. In last week's 36-21 win over Winnipeg, Carter had a tackle, two sacks and two pass knockdowns.

"I take a lot of pride in playing well in crunch time. I've made an extra commitment these last two weeks to study my opponent," said Carter, a late-season addition last year, when he played on special teams. He has started the last 19 games this season.

No TDs no concern to Ham

Ham was unable to lead the Stallions to a touchdown, but he said that isn't a concern.

"Not at all. We won the ballgame and that's the biggest issue," said Ham, who completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards and rushed seven times for 72 yards. "You have to put a lot of things aside this time of year and not allow yourself to get caught up in what you do personally or statistically and just do whatever it takes to win the ballgame."

Ham did not commit a turnover, which he saw as a key.

"They were a team that lived off turnovers," he said. "To put them in a position where they had to go the distance of the field certainly made a difference in the ballgame."

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